“How will story telling promote a child’s writing ability?” was a search string someone used to get to my website recently. I hope that person was looking for something to back up what they already know, for I find it inconceivable that anyone would seriously need to ask this question.
Stories are the raison d’etre of human existence. Without stories and storytelling humans go mad, cleverly spun stories can drive humans mad too! The pen maybe mightier than the sword but the pen is useless if there are no stories to be told.
What is there to write if there are no stories? How can a child have any writing ability without stories filling their head? Writing is not a a mechanical process – even accountants like to be a little bit creative at times.
If you want to improve writing, you have to read. You cannot learn to write without seeing how others do it. The main problem with lowering literacy levels at the moment, is that children are exposed to far too many extracts and not enough sustained stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Children need to read long texts and books. This way they get comfortable with the author’s “Voice” and assimilate grammar, composition and the author’s style by osmosis.
And how do you get children interested in reading books? By telling stories and reading books out loud. Children are desperate for stories. It’s how they truly learn. It is how adults learn too. Why else do politicians, religions and advertisers rely on storytelling to promote their wares? Because they know storytelling is the most powerful tool humans have access to.
You could keep a class happy all day long by just telling stories and letting them play for a bit every hour – putting the stories to work in imaginative play. They will learn more in that day than in a week of structured schooling.
So where is storytelling in schools these days? All I remember of my school lessons was when we managed to get teachers off the subject to talk about their passions – spiders or steam trains. I learned a lot in those lessons. And those wonderful story lessons where the teachers would spend the whole period reading a book. Greek myths, Just So Stories, Narnia, Swallows and Amazons – tales of adventure and human interaction, slowly learning how the world really works in the minds of others and the interaction between humans.
Find any primitive culture and what do you find? Food, Sex and Storytelling. What is our advanced culture built on now? Food, sex and telly – and what is telly, but storytelling round the fire.
Don’t waste your time asking stupid questions like, “How will story telling promote a child’s writing ability?” The proof of the pudding is in the doing, not the asking. Pick up a book and start telling stories NOW! you’ll be amazed at what happens.
About a year agog, Kes Grey, of Daisy fame, introduced me to the idea of a catalyst book edition. What on Earth is that, you may ask?
Kes was in advertising for many years and is a great salesman! His idea was to make the most of on demand printing to produce trial editions of books that he thought publishers might pass on in the hope that they would see the potential once a bit of real marketing had been tried out and they could see the finished product.
I remember the smile creeping over my face as he explained (sold) the idea to me. Brilliant, I thought, but I didn’t have anything that fitted, so I forgot about it for a while.
Until this week, that is.
I’ve been telling a story in schools for about ten years now, originally called the naughtiest girl in the world. It’s changed and grown organically over that time.
I wrote it down about five years ago and adapted it for a novelty picture book. The recession put paid to that as the publishers at the time pulled out of all novelties until they knew what was happening with the economy.
Since then I’ve rewritten it several times. It is now a completely different story that I’m really happy with. I have two problems. The first is that I’m pigeon-holed as a young readers series book writer and the second is that I’ve really come to love pen and ink more and more and would like to do it as a black and white picture book.
Black and white picture books aren’t really done. I don’t see why not. So I think I should have a go and see what the reaction is. You don’t know until you are holding a copy in your hands. If it doesn’t work, at least I might find a publisher who would think it better done in colour – in which case I’m sure I’d be happy to oblige.
Do you think I should? Do you think I shouldn’t? Why?
I’ve added a poll on the right hand side, so you can be part of the catalytic reaction!
I’m off to a great start with my new eight book series, Olympia. Set in ancient Olympia, it explores the life and times of the ancient Olympic Games through the eyes of my young hero, Ollie, whose dad runs the gymnasium.
I worked it all out about eighteen months ago. Now the decks are clear and the project is not only underway, it’s on schedule – so far!
I’ve written the first story, Run like the Wind and – hooray! – my editor, Sarah, likes it a lot. Should I be surprised? Well, I was really pleased with the story, but working on your own in a shed at the bottom of the garden, you can lose touch with reality! It’s so good to know your editor likes your work and that the project is on the right rails.
Last year, I sent my first Axel Storm story in and received a stony silence. My previous editor had rewritten my synopsis and hadn’t told me before she left – so my new editor was expecting something quite different! We got there in the end, but it was hard work, changing my initial ideas to fit the new format.
I’ve finished the cover roughs too. The cover rough for Deadly Target is above. I have a new designer working on them as I write. I came up with a logo idea and I’m dying to see what the cover ideas will look like. I’ll probably post them when we have finalised them.
Keen followers of my artwork will notice that Ollie does not have the ping pong ball eyes that I have always drawn before! I’m being really brave and I’m going to try and draw all the human characters with simple, dot eyes.
I need to make the children look a bit older than they normally are in my books, and the ping pong eyes tend to make them look much younger. Also, I suppose these stories are a little more serious and so I feel they should be a little less cartoony. Does that make sense?
Meantime, back to the keyboard – seven more stories to write and a schedule to meet!
I examined it briefly – not really very interesting – part of me wanted to throw it away, but something made me hold onto it and I put it in my back pocket and carried on walking. Less than a minute later a story formed in my head based on that tiny little shoe
When I got home I started working out the story as a mind map. You can see it and the toy shoe in the picture. Of course I’m not going to show you the whole plan for the story because – well, that would be telling!
It is amazing how tiny little things can grow so quickly into something so amazing as a fully formed idea ready to draw pictures and write words – ready to bring the whole thing to life.
I visited the last two of seventeen schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf on Thursday and Friday. Cwm Parc Primary clings to the side of the hill, way up at the top of the Rhondda Valley, and spreads across two floors like a rabbit warren, whereas Llanhari Primary, almost in the Vale of Gamorgan is wide open and has a wonderful garden out at the back.
I had two great days telling stories and doing drawings. My new shoo-tube.com website went before me at Llanhari, and the children were already drawing from my video lessons. It was quite a revelation for me. They were also expecting me to be able to draw, whereas I quite often arrive at a school and they don’t realise that I do the pictures too.
Years three and four were wonderfully appreciative. Every time I did a drawing, they clapped! Seems like an easy gig to me – it comes much more easily than writing!
Anyway, thanks to both schools for looking after me and bringing my grand tour of the Valleys to a brilliant end. It’s made me think a lot about Oracy and it’s role in writing and literacy too.